The Mysterious Picture – Charles De Coster

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster is the story of a smart, intelligent, cunning painter called Tyl who fooled the ruler and all his courtiers of a small country by not painting their portraits but making them all agree that the painting was excellent! Can you guess how?

Before you Proceed!

  1. Read and reach the end of this page. You will have a test there.
  2. Click ‘Let’s Play’ and complete the test.
  3. Take a screenshot and share with your teacher.
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Essential Words

  • Archduke – The ruler of a dukedom under a king.
  • Duchess – wife of the Duke / Archduke.
  • Noble blood – the blood of the high class people.
  • Portrait – the painting of a single person.
  • Flanders – The Northern side of Belgium (its painters were famous in the past)
  • Court – The office of a king or Duke where all the officials sat to discuss the matters of the country (something like the modern Parliament).

The Mysterious Picture | Detailed Summary

Tyl once went to the palace of the Archduke of Battenburg. He talked to the Archduke in such a pleasing way that the Archduke appointed him as his court-painter. After a wonderful dinner the Archduke demanded that Tyl painted his portrait and Tyl agreed.

Before he commenced (started) the painting, the courtiers had threatened to kill him if he painted them with any signs of ageing or scars. Although he agreed to obey their instructions, Tyl was called by the Archduke to remind him that he was to paint each courtier as natural and exactly as possible. Now, Tyl realizes that would die if he agreed to the Archduke or the courtiers.

Tyl soon saw that he was not able to paint the portrait in any case. On one side, if he painted any of the courtiers as they looked, they would kill him and on the other, if he beautified any of them, the Archduke would kill him. He told that he would paint the Archduke with the Duches (the Duke’s wife) and all the courtiers around them.

The Mysterious Picture | Discussion

The story is very interesting and very simple. It is about how we manage to deal with a difficult situation with our smartness. Tyl was in a big trouble – he had to paint the Archduke and his courtiers without causing displeasure to anyone. It is easy for a skilled painter but Tyl’s case was different.

The comic aspect is how the Archduke and others were brought to admit that they all saw their portraits in the painting. There was no painting – the wall was as white as a fresh canvas but everyone said he saw his portrait with the others.

The story has certain similarities with the story of a king who wore no cloth on a fine day when he appeared in front of the people. The king had been convinced by a dress-designer that he wore a long dress that had magical powers. Only a child from the crowd shouted, “the king is naked.”

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster | Questions & Answers

  1. How does the author describe Tyl?
    Tyl, the painter was a lean man who rode on a donkey. He wore attractive clothes, especially his cap with three bright feathers that swayed as he moved. Tyl knew how to please anyone with his words. He had an answer for any question because he was very confident and intelligent.
  2. Why did the Captain allow Tyl to go in?
    Tyl informed the Captain that he was a painter from Flanders. Because the Captain knew that Flemish painters and their pictures were in great demand all over Europe, he allowed Tyl to meet the Archduke.
  3. How did Tyl get appointed as his court-painter by the Archduke?
    Tyl was as good at speaking as with painting. When he was presented to the Archduke, he saluted him three times and stood before him with his head bowed. He spoke with exceeding politeness, each time praising the Archduke. The Duke was highly impressed by Tyl’s behavior and appointed him as his court-painter.

The Mysterious Picture | Character Sketches

The Archduke

The Archduke is a lover of art but is not very smart. He was easily moved by Tyl’s pleasing words yet he has enough sense to read the painter’s mind to an extent. He was quite reckless which is evidenced by his rewarding the painter much before the painting was completed. This hospitable and patient ruler was also a perfectionist. He controlled his impatience for the sake of perfection and allowed a number of excuses when each time Tyl violated the deadlines. On the downside, the Archduke is a silent terror as we see him threatening Tyl against any imperfection in the painting.

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster | Conversations

Imagine you are the Archduke. Write down three exchanges with Mary, the Duchess, on the following words spoken by Tyl: “May, your Highness pardon me for my rashness in thinking that one of my paintings will please your Highness.”

  1. The Archduke: “Mary, I have never seen such a polite man among artists. Usually artists are too proud.
  2. The Duchess: What did he say? Probably he praised you overtly!
  3. The Archduke: Not a bit! He thought is was rash of him to hope that his painting would please me.
  4. The Duchess: I think he knows the art of speaking, too. Please beware so that you will not be fooled by this fellow. Remember how a dressmaker had fooled your father.
  5. The Archduke: I don’t think so yet I will see to that. He is going to paint all of us from tomorrow.
  6. The Duchess: I believe that you have ordered him to hide this scar on my cheek.

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster | Letter

As one of the courtiers, write a letter to your friend about Tyl’s dealing with a difficult situation in the court. Learn to write informal letters.

12th June, 1889

Dear Albert,

I hope you are back from France. My apologies for not writing to you for the last three months. I was, as always, very much engaged with the building of a new prison section in the underground of the palace.

You have always asked me to tell something worth reading so I have got a piece of real incident that really happened in the palace yesterday. In fact it was about a painter from Flanders, you know, from the North. I don’t know if this fellow is really a painter but he was an excellent piece that the Creator has ever made. I mean, he simply fooled all of us and vanished, our fury and laughter not yet abated.

This man, having pleased the Archduke and everyone of us, agreed to paint a group painting with the Duke and Duches in the centre. Many of us had threatened him to paint our portraits as good as he could, you know what I mean – concealing the patches and ageing. He took two month’s time and announced that the painting was ready. Before viewing the huge painting that was supposed to be on the wall of a hall, he had warned us that those among us who were not with pure noble blood would not see the painting. I myself saw nothing on the wall and was about to tell him that I could not find me in the painting but I saw the danger. If I said I could not see the painting everyone would look down at me and I would probably go into jail. Like everyone else did, I too exclaimed that it was a magnificent painting. What was more, the Archduke and his Duchess praised this rat.

Wait for him, he will visit your palace one day.

Yours sincerely,

Next – The Mysterious Picture | Questions for you

You can answer the following questions in the “comment” box below. Your teacher will assess each answer.

  1. Do you think Tyl had already decided to fool the Archduke and his courtiers from the beginning? Why do you think so?
  2. What warning did Tyl give to the Archduke and the courtiers when they were about to see the painting?
  3. How did the courtiers react to the portrait?
  4. What does Tyl mean by, “a court like this has few rivals in splendour, loveliness and chivalry”?
  5. You have filled my lamp with oil. It will for ever burn in your honour.’
  6. Tyl: Very wise and intelligent, has great presence of mind, highly confident, great self control

It is time to test how much you have really understood! Click “Let’s Play” below.

  1. When you answer the last question, wait for your score below.
  2. Take a screenshot and send to your teacher. The teacher will add this score to your final grade.

  • Question of

    Where did Tyl come from?

    • France
    • Flanders
    • Sanders
  • Question of

    How many days did Tyl take before showing the “painting?”

    • 30 days
    • 45 days
    • 60 days
  • Question of

    Tyl rode on a:

    • horse
    • donkey
    • camel
  • Question of

    Who is a “loafer?”

    • A lazy, idle person
    • A skilled painter
    • a man who wears a hat with feathers
  • Question of

    The Archduke loved painting but he had an evil side:

    • He was merciless
    • He was greedy
    • He did not have patience
  • Question of

    Tyl got his reward:

    • After painting
    • Before painting
    • When the painting was half done
  • Question of

    What reward did the Archduke give Tyl for the painting?

    • ten gold pieces
    • hundred gold pieces
    • thousand gold pieces
  • Question of

    Who was the second woman’s lover?

    • The Commander in Chief
    • The Captain of the Guards
    • The Archduke
  • Question of

    Why did Tyl decide not to paint a portrait?

    • He was not a painter
    • He knew he would not paint the Archduke perfectly
    • To save his life
  • Question of

    How did the courtiers react to the portrait?

    • Said that they did not see any painting.
    • Said that the painting was bad.
    • They did not see any painting but they said they saw.
  • Question of

    “A jester” is:

    • A minister
    • A joker
    • A guard
  • Question of

    After “showing” the painting, Tyl:

    • Stayed back in the court
    • Went out of the court
    • Was arrested by the Archduke
  • Question of

    Did Tyl really paint a portrait?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    What painting had Tyl brought for the Archduke?

    • Monalisa
    • The Last Supper
    • Our Lady the Virgin
  • Question of

    Who questioned Tyl at the gate of the Duke’s palace?

    • Guards
    • The Captain of the Guards
    • The Archduke
  • Question of

    Dismount means:

    • Fall down
    • Get up
    • Get down
  • Question of

    A butcher is someone who:

    • Sells meat
    • Slaughters animals and sells meat
    • Runs a farm
  • Question of

    What does the Duke mean when he says, “you do have a tongue in your head”?

    • He talked nonsense!
    • He talked well
    • He talked too much (voluble)
  • Question of

    “You will certainly have something more solid than dreams to feed on.” The Archduke meant that:

    • Tyl need to eat food
    • Tyl should stop dreaming
    • Tyl need to eat more food
  • Question of

    The Archduke served Tyl:

    • an ordinary meal
    • no food
    • a grand dinner
  • Question of

    Wine flowed like water means:

    • The wine served was in great amount
    • The wine served was very poor quality
    • The wine served was more water than wine
  • Question of

    “We too have to take our place in history along with our noble ancestors whose portraits adorn these walls.”

    • Here, “we” refers to all the courtiers
    • Here, “we” refers to the Archduke and Duchess
    • Here, “we” refers to the Archduke
  • Question of

    “A court like this has few rivals in splendour, loveliness and chivalry.” Here, “few” means:

    • Some
    • Many
    • None


Leave a Reply
  1. 1. No. The situation compelled him to play such a trick.
    2.only a person with noble blood can see the picture.
    3. As if they saw the picture., They were acting as excited and happy.
    4. The court and archduke are that much famous.

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